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Kentucky Basketball: Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics Asks Members to Boycott Kentucky

The COIA doesn't like you very much, Coach Cal.
The COIA doesn't like you very much, Coach Cal.

That, at least, is the way I read this:

We call on all those who support the collegiate model of athletics to speak out against this further move to professionalize college sports, and – most importantly – to decline to participate in such a separation of competitions from campuses. Even a "non-traditional" sports program needs opponents to play.

Okay, who is the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA hereafter)? It is a group of currently 59 FBS schools, including most of the Southeastern Conference, but notably, not UK. In fact, UK is one of only three SEC schools who are not members of the COIA, the other two being LSU and Florida. Their raison d'être appears to be a noble one, spelled out in their charter, the most basic tenet of which says this:

The Coalition. The Coalition On Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA) is a group advocating for reform in intercollegiate athletics, created by and representative of faculty senate leaders at Bowl Championship Series conference schools.

The reform they advocate is essentially the recommendations of the Knight Commission.

Now that I've shown you the money paragraph to open this discussion, let's look back a bit into the COIA's statement to discover their rationale:

Now Kentucky is taking its professional model to the next level. By demanding as a matter of policy that non-conference games be moved to neutral sites that emulate professional conditions it is breaking the connection between campus and school sports and insisting that contracted opponents do likewise. Programs designed with the balanced goals of the collegiate model cannot compete with this approach, and UK’s actions will place schools under enormous pressure to follow suit.

Let's examine this complaint closely. The COIA's statement says that Kentucky has established a policy of playing non-conference games only on neutral sites, and is doing so in order to "emulate professional conditions."

This entire line of reasoning is transparently false, misleading, and deliberately deceptive. In the first place, there is no policy in place that I am aware of to move all non-conference games to neutral sites. Even if that were the policy, it would be absurd, since it would make Rupp Arena essentially superfluous to the University of Kentucky until conference time. Nobody has ever suggested such a thing, and how an organization who purports to count honesty, transparency and ethics among their guiding principles can so blatantly misstate the truth is, to say the very least, troubling.

In the second place, there is no movement to break the connection between campuses and school sports. Many games every year are played on neutral sites. The NCAA Tournament itself is played at neutral sites. Many tournaments, such as the the early rounds of pre-season and the post-season NIT and CBI, are played at college campuses.

So if this rationale is correct, the NCAA itself is violating the tenets that the authors of this statement wold purport to hold Kentucky to. Kentucky's desire to add more games at neutral sites has been explained by John Calipari to serve two fundamental purposes:

  1. To allow fans who normally do not have access to games better access. This has never been a scheme to deprive students of the opportunity to see games, or divorce the games from the student experience. There is still going to be plenty of that, but this also gives others who support the universities of the respective contestants to experience the pageantry of NCAA basketball in a setting that can accommodate more than just the students and season ticket holders.

  2. To acclimatize the basketball team to playing in sites similar to those in the NCAA Tournament. Calipari quite rationally thinks that a few games in large, neutral venues similar to those that house March Madness will be of benefit to the team, helping equalize their experience at such sites with that of schools who have less early entry turnover. Identifying and creating those opportunities is straightforwardly part of his job as coach.

That's it. But the COIA is engaging in a deceptive, fictional portrayal of Calipari's motives, twisting his clear statements into a bizarre caricature of a coach trying not to prepare his team for NCAA Tournament competition, but for professional basketball.

Then, there is the additional strange verbiage of "insisting that contracted opponents do likewise." What this is supposed to mean is anybody's guess, but I would not be surprised to find it was written by Joel Pett.

How can a contracted opponent be forced to do anything they do not want to do? If a school does not agree with the idea of playing UK at the venue that UK insists on, they can simply demure, and should. Kentucky, quite honestly, is not trying to force anything on anybody, and it is certainly their right as an institution to try to arrange some games in venues that might benefit their team, to the extent that it is fair for their competitor as well. And in what way is a neutral site unfair to their competitors?

Finally, there is this confusing summation: "Programs designed with the balanced goals of the collegiate model cannot compete with this approach, and UK’s actions will place schools under enormous pressure to follow suit." What they are saying here, apparently, is that playing a game or two more at neutral sites is not consistent with the balanced goals of the collegiate model. If you can explain that one to me, please do.

There is no proven benefit to playing in large venues like football stadiums early in the season, despite Calipari's claims. His main concern is that the fact of Kentucky's high turnover places the Wildcats at a disadvantage against schools who have more upperclassmen, who necessarily have more experience in larger venues. It is his desire to equalize that advantage as much as feasible, but I am skeptical that it will make very much difference.

This entire COIA statement is riddled with misstatements of fact, made-up nonsense, and warnings of dire consequences to intercollegiate athletics that have no basis in reality or history. It is a nonsequitur of the meanest and most irrational sort, and utterly unworthy of an organization that claims to aspire to such lofty goals.

I call upon the COIA to correct their misstatements and apologize to the University of Kentucky. In fact, UK would be well within their rights to consider legal action against these worthies, as this statement looks to me like it meets the threshold requirements of defamation against the University in general, and coach Calipari in particular. It is factually incorrect, recklessly accusatory, and calls for action that is an unfounded attack on the University and Commonwealth of Kentucky.

This cannot, and should not, stand unresponded-to.

UPDATE: Blenheim bard just reminded me indirectly that this probably calls for an application of Hanlon's Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.